Assignment 5: Reflections on feedback

My first, hasty thought after a quick reading of Prof. Rose’s feedback has been that my essay was in many ways ‘wrong’ and that I needed to rework it substantially, so I was initially discouraged even if my tutor’s overall comment was positive.

However, when I reread it carefully I started to see things differently and the feedback got really rich: the observations and suggestions were certainly meant to be useful pointers on how to make improvements in some places of the essay at hand and give me additional information on aspects and issues that I might not be aware of, but also offered important criteria for tackling essay writing at large.

I shall now try to summarise the main ‘lessons’ I got from this feedback (I put my tutor’s words in inverted commas).

I should be precise and consider carefully what I write, also implicitly: if I say for instance that the works were also exhibited in their entirety ‘is it the case that they are ever displayed singly’? Here an innocent little word like also does create misunderstandings.

It is advisable to double-check the meaning of what I write, to avoid mistakes: to say that an artwork is site-specific means that it remains in the place for which it has been created, otherwise if it is displayed elsewhere this ‘immediately removes the possibility of their being site-specific.’

Try not to be vague, go into details, go below the surface: if I say that the works belong to the landscape from which they came this is true ‘in a way, but also think about the artist’s intervention’.

Do not take at face value what primary sources say, always make an effort to evaluate them critically, question them: for instance ‘always approach artist’s own words with a degree of caution since they will emphasize (quite naturally) what they want their work to mean which is not necessarily the same as the viewer’s understanding.’

(Following from the above) Do ask myself questions about aspects of work mentioned, probe them further: in this case the relevance given to process in these artworks, their ‘history’, the act of repetition, the concept of ‘nature’.

So with all these precious inputs I got myself to work again on the essay and I did the following the best I was able to. After correcting mistakes and inaccuracies, following my tutor’s suggestions I tried to distantiate myself from my primary sources – in this case the substantial absence of secondary sources gives me a certain responsibility to at least attempt a critical appraisal. I also eliminated parts that did not seem really necessary or that were somehow reiterations of concepts already expressed at some other point. I rearranged some of the paragraphs in order to chain ideas in a more consequential way, to enhance cohesion and readability of the text. And lastly I rechecked the meanings of the words I was not totally sure of and my grammar, being English a second language for me.

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Assignment 5: Reflective Commentary

 

Studying for Part 5 has been a different experience from the other parts of the course: even if for several years now I have been dealing with fabrics and fibres in multiple ways – from stitching and manipulating them in experimental samples with multi-media techniques to learning rigorous pattern making, cutting and sewing – this has been the first time that I have approached textiles as materials/media having specific qualities that make them suitable for use in a high number of functional, design or art contexts.

In this regard and considering the very wide scope of the subject I have found very useful and stimulating the organization of Part 5 in four main viewpoints centred around the course themes of time and place. This has greatly helped me to connect the study of textiles to the other 4 parts of the course – contemporary art, creative reading, visual communications and photography: if at the beginning these disciplines seemed to me rather vaguely linked, they appear now all neatly and satisfyingly ‘stitched together’ – if I may use a textile metaphor. And having seen how the themes of time and place have been successfully ‘weaved’ through all parts of the course, I have now an idea of how I could decline and explore a theme in different disciplines, contexts and media.

The section on the life cycle of textiles and sustainability (Project 1) has opened up new perspectives for me. Like many, I am already used to collect old garments and fabrics for recycling or upcycling in new projects but I had never thought of doing so in the wider frame of well-defined practices to adopt during all the design/making stages as proposed by the Textiles Environment Design (TED) on their website. And this is certainly something that I shall try to implement in all crafts – textiles – but also jewellery and ceramics, two activities that I practice and that present many sustainability issues, from potentially toxic chemicals to waste of energy resources.

In Project 2 (revival of craft and the hand-made) I find particularly inspiring the distinction made between the workmanship of risk centred on the individual and the workmanship of certainty centred on the industrial design/production. I think that this type of approach can really offer a useful conceptual tool to designers, makers and artists in their experiences and dealings with materials and methods, especially if combined with the development of a personal narrative as further mentioned by Project 2.

Another very helpful instrument is the set of qualities outlined in Project 3 to analyse the various contexts in which textiles are employed in the environment. The same qualities can also be profitably considered during designing and making so as to work with enhanced focus and awareness in one’s own practice.

Finally Project 4 shifts attention from the use of textiles in the environment to the intimate relation that textiles have with the human body and while it concentrates research and exercises mainly on fashion, the function of ‘enveloping the body’ could also be explored in art by taking advantage of the visual/tactile characteristics of textiles and of their draping/handling/protective qualities.

(509 words)

 

 

Assignment 5: A sense of place, a sense of time: ‘Caught by the Tide’ (2014) by textile artist Debbie Lyddon

 

 

(All images are from Debbie Lyddon’s website and blog)

I discovered the work of British textile artist Debbie Lyddon two years ago and started following its evolution closely but it was only in the last months that I gradually understood how her slowly developed reflective pieces are in many ways deeply connected with the fundamental themes of this course – place and time. This is why for my last Assignment I choose to study a body of work by her, ‘Caught by the Tide’ (2014), that has directly grown from her special, intimate, prolonged relation with the coastal environment of North Norfolk, and specifically of Wells-by-the-Sea, and the processes of change brought to it by the daily tides.

The pieces of this series – a variety of Cloths, Pots and Pipes – were created over an extended period and finally exhibited as a cohesive whole in 2014 at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery in London. Even if, judging from the images of the exhibition, it seems that also in the artificial and space-limited setting of a gallery they still resonated strongly with the landscape from which they were born, the act of exhibiting them in a gallery somehow interrupted and froze the flow of their organic evolution and set them apart as objects. This ‘objectification’ is a step that the artist deemed necessary to get a perspective on her work but of course it also implied creating a distance from it, a separation that took away ‘the closeness of being with it’ as Debbie Lyddon noted in her blog.

That said, I think that reading the posts of her compelling, at times poetic blog and learning how her pieces organically evolved in time, how they grew from her thoughts and her walks and experiences in the environment is really important to understand her creative practice, develop a fuller appreciation of her work and usefully integrate the exhibition. Her emphasis on the processes of creation and on the action of natural elements on the materials she gathers and transforms makes us look at her actual pieces with increased attention, ‘through’ their story, and they become ‘charged’ with the place they are physically imbued with. These are aspects of her work that remind me of another textile and paper artist, Cas Holmes, who creates evocative mixed media pieces from salvaged materials found in the urban and natural landscape.

From reading Debbie Lyddon’s blog we get to know that the canvas she uses is that found on the beach in the form of tarpaulins, boat covers and sails and still bears strong associations with its primary functions of protection in a marine environment and for sailing by people who live by the sea. We learn among other things that to create some of her pieces, the ‘Tarpaulin Cloths’, she repeatedly dipped them into saltwater – ‘I like to use the sea as a resource – it is another material available to me – so I put this cloth into the sea and then left it outside in the salty, coastal environment’. And in describing the process the artist uses what I think is a very beautiful, powerful expression – ‘taking the cloth to the water’ – like for a personal, repetitive ritual that goes well beyond enriching the cloth with salt and let the sewn-in metal rings gradually rust.

An aspect that appears as fundamental in this artist’s work is the act of repetition, in the form of repetitive, contemplative gestures, recurring shapes and stitches. On the one hand, repetition connects her work to her former practice as a flautist and so to her story, to her personal narrative: ‘I think this way of working recalls my former life as a musician and the hours of repetitive flute practice required to learn a new piece of music’ (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016).

On the other, the repetition of certain elements like holes helps to draw attention and direct vision. Holes are for her ‘an immaterial emptiness’ which ‘allows us to see a nothing – to make visible the invisible’ (Art that Inspires, 2016), and so encourage a meditative, intellectual exploration of her pieces. And in this regard Debbie Lyddon reflects on the holes in the works by Barbara Hepworth, an artist that she admires and quotes often, and sees an analogy  between matter and empty space in sculpture and sounds and silences in music, again reconnecting her work to her previous musical studies (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016).

In this sense her pieces can be considered a form of conceptual, process-led form of art, but they are also very physical, materially intense objects having a strong visual, tactile and textural presence which can be perceived in the gallery space. The traces left on them by the salt and the sea demand an intimate, close-up appraisal. These are definitely immersive pieces that want not only to be looked, but also touched and felt – and in some cases even heard, like the ‘Aeolian Pipes’, which in their original environment resonate at the passage of wind (Aeolian Pipes, 2014).

Her previous experience as a musician was certainly crucial for the creation of these Pipes – whose shape and holes remind me of flutes – but the use of wind as material seems also connected to the rhythmic movement of breath which is ‘fundamental to life and being’, as she notes quoting Being Alive’ by Tim Ingold.

And I think that the idea of rhythm, which englobes also the idea of repetition, lies ultimately at the core of Debbie Lyddon’s work: rhythmic is the movement of the tides of the coastal landscape from which her pieces are born – ‘dominated by the twice daily tides, it is land for half a day and then sea for the rest’ (www.debbielyddon.co.uk) – and rhythmic is her constant movement as an artist from the inside to the outside, from the inside of her thoughts, readings, memories to the outside made of long enjoyable walks in the landscape or happy sailings on the sea. Her inspiration constantly moves between these two poles – in and out – and is nourished by both.

Rythmic and cyclical is finally also the sense of time in her pieces, that reflect the cyclical changes of the environment and absorb the energy of the place as it evolves. This is a vital, necessary connection with their origins that the artist underlines in her blog: ‘The energy of the place is within the energy of the piece … The introduction of the work to the place brings together two halves of a whole’ (debbielyddon.wordpress, 2016). I perceive in her vision an implied acceptance of change in life and nature which does not contemplate regret for the decay of things or the passage of time, and so her way of dealing with time is fundamentally different from the drama of the vanitas paintings. The word drama does not seem to belong to her art, harmony instead, and a close, calm and passionate attention to all the small variations of her landscape of choice with which she subtly interacts, in receptive correspondence and uninterrupted exchange.

(1149 words)

 

Bibliography

Barnes, C.J. (2012) Exploring Dimension in Quilt Art, London: Batsford

http://www.casholmes.textilearts.net/page3.html (Accessed 12/08/2017)

http://debbielyddon.co.uk/ (Accessed 12/08/2017)

https://debbielyddon.wordpress.com (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Fox, A. (2015) Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects, Batsford

Lyddon, D. (2013) ‘Responding to Environment’, In: http://www.textileartist.org [online] At: www.textileartist.org (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Lyddon, D. (2014) Aeolian Pipes and Air-songs [online booklet] At: debbielyddon.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/aeolian-pipes-and-air-songs-booklet.pdf (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Lyddon, D. (2016) Textiles: A Response to Landscape, In: TextileArtist.org [e-book online] At:  https://resources.textileartist.org/products/textiles-a-response-to-landscape (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Lyddon, D. (2016) ‘Art that Inspires’,  In: TextileArtist.org [article online] At: www.textileartist.org (Accessed 12/08/2017)

Meech S. (2012) Connecting Design to Stitch, London: Batsford

Thittichai, K. (2009) Experimental Textiles, London: Batsford

Triston, J. (2014) Contemporary Applique, London: Batsford